Five banking companies recently were commended for their Internet savvy by ComputerWorld, a computer trade publication.
BankAmerica Corp., Barnett Banks Inc., First Union Corp., KeyCorp, and Wells Fargo & Co. all were named to ComputerWorld's Premier 100 list for their innovative Internet applications and Web sites.
Though each of these is attacking the Internet differently, their efforts all show an understanding of what it takes to attract customers to their sites.
First Union takes its inclusion in the group as a sign that the bank is "on the right track," said Edgar D. Brown, senior vice president of the customer direct access division.
"I think the reason we got put on the list is that our Web site is very unbankerlike," said Patrick J. Swanick, executive vice president of electronic commerce at Cleveland-based KeyCorp. A visitor to KeyCorp's site is guided by a "virtual" corporate spokesman called Kyle Cranium.
Barnett's strategy has been to give its Web site a local flavor. "We offer a lot of information on our home communities," said Robert Stickler, manager of external communications.
BankAmerica and Wells are included for their innovative work in building on-line branches on the Web.
Several of the banks offered statistics indicating how their Internet presences are changing the way customers behave.
First Union executives said the number of visits to its Web site grows about 38% a month.
Since opening for business in July, KeyCorp's site has racked up one million visitors.
BankAmerica said the Internet has given it a way to attract new customers.
"We know that 30% of the new checking accounts we've opened up for home banking customers have come from outside BofA's retail presence," said Catherine Graeber, senior vice president of interactive banking.
On the premise that entertaining Web sites hold visitors' attention better, KeyCorp has created an on-line game, called Money Chase, that "educates customers about some bank products like investments," said Mr. Swanick. "It's really fun to play."
The Internet also is an effective marketing channel, bankers said.
"We find customers really like to be marketed to if it's meaningful to them," Ms. Graeber said. "Asking them what they want to hear from us ... lets us really target our message."
"The more interactive you make it, the better off you are," Mr. Brown said.